Ever yours affectionately,
Macaulay liked Cambridge too well to spend the long vacation elsewhere except under strong compulsion; but in 1821, with the terrors of the Mathematical Tripos already close at hand, he was persuaded into joining a reading party in Wales with a Mr. Bird as tutor. Eardley Childers, the father of the statesman of that name, has preserved a pleasant little memorial of the expedition.
To Charles Smith Bird, Eardley Childers, Thos. B. Macaulay, William Clayton Walters, Geo. B. Paley, Robert Jarratt, Thos. Jarratt, Edwin Kempson, Ebenezer Ware, Wm. Cornwall, John Greenwood, J. Lloyd, and Jno. Wm. Gleadall, Esquires.
Gentlemen,—We the undersigned, for ourselves and the inhabitants in general of the town of Llanrwst in the county of Denbigh, consider it our duty to express to you the high sense we entertain of your general good conduct and demeanour during your residence here, and we assure you that we view with much regret the period of your separation and departure from amongst us. We are very sensible of the obligation we are under for your uniformly benevolent and charitable exertions upon several public occasions, and we feel peculiar pleasure in thus tendering to you individually our gratitude and thanks.
Wishing you all possible prosperity and happiness in your future avocations, we subscribe ourselves with unfeigned respect, Gentlemen,
Your most obedient servants,
REV. JOHN TILTEY,
In one respect Macaulay hardly deserved his share of this eulogium. A scheme was on foot in the town to found an auxiliary branch of the Bible Society. A public meeting was called, and Mr. Bird urged his eloquent pupil to aid the project with a specimen of Union rhetoric. Macaulay, however, had had enough of the Bible Society at Clapham, and sturdily refused to come forward as its champion at Llanrwst.
Llanrwst: July—, 1821.
My dear Mother,—You see I know not how to date my letter. My calendar in this sequestered spot is as irregular as Robinson Crusoe's after he had missed one day in his calculation. I have no intelligence to send you, unless a battle between a drunken attorney and an impudent publican which took place here yesterday may deserve the appellation. You may perhaps be more interested to hear that I sprained my foot, and am just recovering from the effects of the accident by means of opodeldoc which I bought at the tinker's. For all trades and professions here lie in a most delightful confusion. The druggist sells hats; the shoemaker is the sole bookseller, if that dignity may be allowed him on the strength of the three Welsh Bibles, and the guide to Caernarvon, which adorn his window; ink is sold by the apothecary; the grocer sells ropes, (a commodity which, I fear, I shall require before my residence here is over,) and tooth-brushes. A clothes-brush is a luxury yet unknown to Llanrwst. As to books, for want of any other English literature, I intend to learn Paradise Lost by heart at odd moments. But I must conclude. Write to me often, my dear Mother, and all of you at home, or you may have to answer for my drowning myself, like Gray's bard, in "Old Conway's foaming flood," which is most conveniently near for so poetical an exit.
Ever most affectionately yours,
T. B. M.
Llanrwst: August 32, 1821.
My dear Father,—I have just received your letter, and cannot but feel concerned at the tone of it. I do not think it quite fair to attack me for filling my letters with remarks on the King's Irish expedition. It has been the great event of this part of the world. I was at Bangor when he sailed. His bows, and the Marquis of Anglesea's fete, were the universal subjects of conversation; and some remarks on the business were as natural from me as accounts of the coronation from you in London. In truth I have little else to say. I see nothing that connects me with the world except the newspapers. I get up, breakfast, read, play at quoits, and go to bed. This is the history of my life. It will do for every day of the last fortnight.
As to the King, I spoke of the business, not at all as a political, but as a moral question,—as a point of correct feeling and of private decency. If Lord were to issue tickets for a gala ball immediately after receiving intelligence of the sudden death of his divorced wife, I should say the same. I pretend to no great insight into party politics; but the question whether it is proper for any man to mingle in festivities while his wife's body lies unburied is one, I confess, which I thought myself competent to decide. But I am not anxious about the fate of my remarks, which I have quite forgot, and which, I dare say, were very foolish. To me it is of little importance whether the King's conduct were right or wrong; but it is of great importance that those whom I love should not think me a precipitate, silly, shallow sciolist in politics, and suppose that every frivolous word that falls from my pen is a dogma which I mean to advance as indisputable; and all this only because I write to them without reserve; only because I love them well enough to trust them with every idea which suggests itself to me. In fact, I believe that I am not more precipitate or presumptuous than other people, but only more open. You cannot be more fully convinced than I am how contracted my means are of forming a judgment. If I chose to weigh every word that I uttered or wrote to you, and, whenever I alluded to politics, were to labour and qualify my expressions as if I were drawing up a state paper, my letters might be a great deal wiser, but would not be such letters as I should wish to receive from those whom I loved. Perfect love, we are told, casteth out fear. If I say, as I know I do, a thousand wild and inaccurate things, and employ exaggerated expressions about persons or events in writing to you or to my mother, it is not, I believe, that I want power to systematise my ideas or to measure my expressions, but because I have no objection to letting you see my mind in dishabille. I have a court dress for days of ceremony and people of ceremony, nevertheless. But I would not willingly be frightened into wearing it with you; and I hope you do not wish me to do so.
T. B. M.
To hoax a newspaper has, time out of mind, been the special ambition of undergraduate wit. In the course of 1821 Macaulay sent to the Morning Post a burlesque copy of verses, entitled "Tears of Sensibility." The editor fell an easy victim, but unfortunately did not fall alone.
No pearl of ocean is so sweet As that in my Zuleika's eye. No earthly jewel can compete With tears of sensibility.
Like light phosphoric on the billow, Or hermit ray of evening sky, Like ripplings round a weeping willow Are tears of sensibility.
Like drops of Iris-coloured fountains By which Endymion loved to lie, Like dew-gems on untrodden mountains Are tears of sensibility.
While Zephyr broods o'er moonlight rill The flowerets droop as if to die, And from their chaliced cup distil The tears of sensibility.
The heart obdurate never felt One link of Nature's magic tie If ne'er it knew the bliss to melt In tears of sensibility.
The generous and the gentle heart Is like that balmy Indian tree Which scatters from the wounded part The tears of sensibility.
Then oh! ye Fair, if Pity's ray E'er taught your snowy breasts to sigh, Shed o'er my contemplative lay The tears of sensibility.
November 2, 1821.
My dear Mother,—I possess some of the irritability of a poet, and it has been a good deal awakened by your criticisms. I could not have imagined that it would have been necessary for me to have said that the execrable trash entitled "Tears of Sensibility" was merely a burlesque on the style of the magazine verses of the day. I could not suppose that you could have suspected me of seriously composing such a farrago of false metaphor and unmeaning epithet. It was meant solely for a caricature on the style of the poetasters of newspapers and journals; and, (though I say it who should not say it,) has excited more attention and received more praise at Cambridge than it deserved. If you have it, read it over again, and do me the justice to believe that such a compound of jargon, nonsense, false images, and exaggerated sentiment, is not the product of my serious labours. I sent it to the Morning Post, because that paper is the ordinary receptacle of trash of the description which I intended to ridicule, and its admission therefore pointed the jest. I see, however, that for the future I must mark more distinctly when I intend to be ironical.
Your affectionate son
T. B. M.
Cambridge: July 26, 1822.
My dear Father,—I have been engaged to take two pupils for nine months of the next year. They are brothers, whose father, a Mr. Stoddart, resides at Cambridge. I am to give them an hour a day, each; and am to receive a hundred guineas. It gives me great pleasure to be able even in this degree to relieve you from the burden of my expenses here. I begin my tutorial labours to-morrow. My pupils are young, one being fifteen and the other thirteen years old, but I hear excellent accounts of their proficiency, and I intend to do my utmost for them. Farewell.
T. B. M.
A few days later on he writes "I do not dislike teaching whether it is that I am more patient than I had imagined, or that I have not yet had time to grow tired of my new vocation. I find, also, what at first sight may appear paradoxical, that I read much more in consequence, and that the regularity of habits necessarily produced by a periodical employment which cannot be procrastinated fully compensates for the loss of the time which is consumed in tuition."
Trinity College, Cambridge: October 1, 1824.
My dear Father,—I was elected Fellow this morning, shall be sworn in to-morrow, and hope to leave Cambridge on Tuesday for Rothley Temple. The examiners speak highly of the manner in which I acquitted myself, and I have reason to believe that I stood first of the candidates.
I need not say how much I am delighted by my success, and how much I enjoy the thought of the pleasure which it will afford to you, my mother, and our other friends. Till I become a Master of Arts next July the pecuniary emolument which I shall derive will not be great. For seven years from that time it will make me almost an independent man.
Malden is elected. You will take little interest in the rest of our Cambridge successes and disappointments.
Yours most affectionately,
T. B. M.
CHAPTER III. 1824-30.
Macaulay is called to the bar—Does not make it a serious profession—Speech before the Anti-Slavery Society—Knight's Quarterly Magazine—The Edinburgh Review and the Essay on Milton—Macaulay's personal appearance and mode of existence—His defects and virtues, likings and antipathies— Croker Sadler—Zachary Macaulay's circumstances— Description of the family habits of life in Great Ormond Street—Macaulay's sisters—Hannah Macaulay—the Judicious Poet—Macaulay's humour in conversation—His articles in the Review—His attacks on the Utilitarians and on Southey— Blackwood's Magazine—Macaulay is made Commissioner of Bankruptcy—Enters Parliament—Letters from Circuit and Edinburgh.
MACAULAY was called to the bar in 1826, and joined the Northern circuit. On the evening that he first appeared at mess, when the company were retiring for the night, he was observed to be carefully picking out the longest candle. An old King's Counsel, who noticed that he had a volume under his arm, remonstrated with him on the danger of reading in bed, upon which he rejoined with immense rapidity of utterance "I always read in bed at home; and, if I am not afraid of committing parricide, and matricide, and fratricide, I can hardly be expected to pay any special regard to the lives of the bagmen of Leeds." And, so saying, he left his hearers staring at one another, and marched off to his room, little knowing that, before many years were out, he would have occasion to speak much more respectfully of the Leeds bagmen.
Under its social aspect Macaulay heartily enjoyed his legal career. He made an admirable literary use of the Saturnalia which the Northern circuit calls by the name of "Grand Night," when personalities of the most pronounced description are welcomed by all except the object of them, and forgiven even by him. His hand may be recognised in a macaronic poem, written in Greek and English, describing the feast at which Alexander murdered Clitus. The death of the victim is treated with an exuberance of fantastic drollery, and a song, put into the mouth of Nearchus, the admiral of the Macedonian fleet, and beginning with the lines
"When as first I did come back from ploughing the salt water They paid me off at Salamis, three minae and a quarter,—"
is highly Aristophanic in every sense of the word.
He did not seriously look to the bar as a profession. No persuasion would induce him to return to his chambers in the evening, according to the practice then in vogue. After the first year or two of the period during which he called himself a barrister he gave up even the pretence of reading law, and spent many more hours under the gallery of the House of Commons, than in all the Courts together. The person who knew him best said of him: "Throughout life he never really applied himself to any pursuit that was against the grain." Nothing is more characteristic of the man than the contrast between his unconquerable aversion to the science of jurisprudence at the time when he was ostensibly preparing himself to be an advocate, and the zest with which, on his voyage to India, he mastered that science in principle and detail as soon as his imagination was fired by the prospect of the responsibilities of a law-giver.
He got no business worth mention, either in London or on circuit. Zachary Macaulay, who was not a man of the world, did what he could to make interest with the attorneys, and, as a last resource, proposed to his son to take a brief in a suit which he himself had instituted against the journal that had so grossly libelled him. "I am rather glad," writes Macaulay from York in March 1827, "that I was not in London, if your advisers thought it right that I should have appeared as your counsel. Whether it be contrary to professional etiquette I do not know; but I am sure that it would be shocking to public feeling, and particularly imprudent against adversaries whose main strength lies in detecting and exposing indecorum or eccentricity. It would have been difficult to avoid a quarrel with Sugden, with Wetherell, and with old Lord Eldon himself. Then the John Bull would have been upon us with every advantage. The personal part of the consideration it would have been my duty, and my pleasure and pride also, to overlook; but your interests must have suffered."
Meanwhile he was busy enough in fields better adapted than the law to his talents and his temperament. He took a part in a meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society held at Freemasons' Tavern, on the 25th of June 1824, with the Duke of Gloucester in the chair. The Edinburgh Review described his speech as "a display of eloquence so signal for rare and matured excellence that the most practised orator may well admire how it should have come from one who then for the first time addressed a public assembly."
Those who know what the annual meeting of a well-organised and disciplined association is, may imagine the whirlwind of cheers which greeted the declaration that the hour was at hand when "the peasant of the Antilles will no longer crawl in listless and trembling dejection round a plantation from whose fruits he must derive no advantage, and a hut whose door yields him no protection; but, when his cheerful and voluntary labour is performed, he will return with the firm step and erect brow of a British citizen from the field which is his freehold to the cottage which is his castle."
Surer promise of aptitude for political debate was afforded by the skill with which the young speaker turned to account the recent trial for sedition, and death in prison, of Smith, the Demerara missionary; an event which was fatal to Slavery in the West Indies in the same degree as the execution of John Brown was its deathblow in the United States. "When this country has been endangered either by arbitrary power or popular delusion, truth has still possessed one irresistible organ, and justice one inviolable tribunal. That organ has been an English press, and that tribunal an English jury. But in those wretched islands we see a press more hostile to truth than any censor, and juries more insensible to justice than any Star Chamber. In those islands alone is exemplified the full meaning of the most tremendous of the curses denounced against the apostate Hebrews, 'I will curse your blessings.' We can prove this assertion out of the mouth of our adversaries. We remember, and God Almighty forbid that we ever should forget, how, at the trial of Mr. Smith, hatred regulated every proceeding, was substituted for every law, and allowed its victim no sanctuary in the house of mourning, no refuge in the very grave. Against the members of that court-martial the country has pronounced its verdict. But what is the line of defence taken by its advocates? It has been solemnly and repeatedly declared in the House of Commons that a jury composed of planters would have acted with far more injustice than did this court;—this court which has never found a single lawyer to stake his professional character on the legality of its proceedings. The argument is this. Things have doubtless been done which should not have been done. The court-martial sat without a jurisdiction; it convicted without evidence; it condemned to a punishment not warranted by law. But we must make allowances. We must judge by comparison. 'Mr Smith ought to have been very thankful that it was no worse. Only think what would have been his fate if he had been tried by a jury of planters!' Sir, I have always lived under the protection of the British laws, and therefore I am unable to imagine what could be worse; but, though I have small knowledge, I have a large faith; I by no means presume to set any limits to the possible injustice of a West Indian judicature. And since the colonists maintain that a jury composed of their own body not only possibly might, but necessarily must, have acted with more iniquity than this court-martial, I certainly shall not dispute the assertion, though I am utterly unable to conceive the mode."
That was probably the happiest half-hour of Zachary Macaulay's life. "My friend," said Wilberforce, when his turn came to speak, "would doubtless willingly bear with all the base falsehoods, all the vile calumnies, all the detestable artifices which have been aimed against him, to render him the martyr and victim of our cause, for the gratification he has this day enjoyed in hearing one so dear to him plead such a cause in such a manner." Keen as his pleasure was, he took it in his own sad way. From the first moment to the last, he never moved a muscle of his countenance, but sat with his eyes fixed on a piece of paper, on which he seemed to be writing with a pencil. While talking with his son that evening, he referred to what had passed only to remark that it was ungraceful in so young a man to speak with folded arms in the presence of royalty.
In 1823 the leading members of the cleverest set of boys who ever were together at a public school found themselves collected once more at Cambridge. Of the former staff of the Etonian, Praed, Moultrie, Nelson Coleridge, and, among others, Mr. Edmond Beales, so well known to our generation as an ardent politician, were now in residence at King's or Trinity. Mr. Charles Knight, too enterprising a publisher to let such a quantity of youthful talent run to waste, started a periodical, which was largely supported by undergraduates and Bachelors of Arts, among whom the veterans of the Eton press formed a brilliant, and, as he vainly hoped, a reliable nucleus of contributors.
Knight's Quarterly Magazine is full of Macaulay, and of Macaulay in the attractive shape which a great author wears while he is still writing to please no one but himself. He unfortunately did not at all please his father. In the first number, besides a great deal of his that is still worth reading, there were printed under his adopted signature of Tristram Merton two little poems, the nature of which may be guessed from Praed's editorial comments. "Tristram Merton, I have a strong curiosity to know who Rosamond is. But you will not tell me; and, after all, as far as your verses are concerned, the surname is nowise germane to the matter. As poor Sheridan said, it is too formal to be registered in love's calendar." And again: "Tristram, I hope Rosamond and your Fair Girl of France will not pull caps; but I cannot forbear the temptation of introducing your Roxana and Statira to an admiring public." The verses were such as any man would willingly look back to having written at two and twenty; but their appearance occasioned real misery to Zachary Macaulay, who indeed disapproved of the whole publication from beginning to end, with the exception of an article on West Indian Slavery which his son had inserted with the most filial intention, but which, it must be allowed, was not quite in keeping with the general character of the magazine.
July 9, 1823.
My dear Father,—I have seen the two last letters which you have sent to my mother. They have given me deep pain; but pain without remorse. I am conscious of no misconduct, and whatever uneasiness I may feel arises solely from sympathy for your distress.
You seem to imagine that the book is edited, or principally written, by friends of mine. I thought that you had been aware that the work is conducted in London, and that my friends and myself are merely contributors, and form a very small proportion of the contributors. The manners of almost all of my acquaintances are so utterly alien from coarseness, and their morals from libertinism, that I feel assured that no objection of that nature can exist to their writings. As to my own contributions I can only say that the Roman Story was read to my mother before it was published, and would have been read to you if you had happened to be at home. Not one syllable of censure was uttered.
The Essay on the Royal Society of Literature was read to you. I made the alterations which I conceived that you desired, and submitted them afterwards to my mother. As to the poetry which you parallel with Little's, if anything vulgar or licentious has been written by myself, I am willing to bear the consequences. If anything of that cast has been written by my friends, I allow that a certain degree of blame attaches to me for having chosen them at least indiscreetly. If, however, a bookseller of whom we knew nothing has coupled improper productions with ours in a work over which we had no control, I cannot plead guilty to anything more than misfortune; a misfortune in which some of the most rigidly moral and religious men of my acquaintance have participated in the present instance.
I am pleading at random for a book which I never saw. I am defending the works of people most of whose names I never heard. I am therefore writing under great disadvantages. I write also in great haste. I am unable even to read over what I have written.
T. B. M.
Moved by the father's evident unhappiness, the son promised never to write again for the obnoxious periodical. The second number was so dull and decorous that Zachary Macaulay, who felt that, if the magazine went on through successive quarters reforming its tone in the same proportion, it would soon be on a level of virtue with the Christian Observer, withdrew his objection; and the young man wrote regularly till the short life of the undertaking ended in something very like a quarrel between the publisher and his contributors. It is not the province of biography to dilate upon works which are already before the world; and the results of Macaulay's literary labour during the years 1823 and 1824 have been, perhaps, only too freely reproduced in the volumes which contain his miscellaneous writings. It is, however, worthy of notice that among his earlier efforts in literature his own decided favourite was "the Conversation between Mr. Abraham Cowley and Mr. John Milton touching the great Civil War." But an author, who is exempt from vanity, is inclined to rate his own works rather according as they are free from faults than as they abound in beauties; and Macaulay's readers will very generally give the preference to two fragmentary sketches of Roman and Athenian society which sparkle with life, and humour, and a masculine vigorous fancy that had not yet learned to obey the rein. Their crude but genuine merit suggests a regret that he did not in after days enrich the Edinburgh Review with a couple of articles on classical subjects, as a sample of that ripened scholarship which produced the Prophecy of Capys, and the episode relating to the Phalaris controversy in the Essay on Sir William Temple.
Rothley Temple: October 7, 1824.
My dear Father,—As to Knight's Magazine, I really do not think that, considering the circumstances under which it is conducted, it can be much censured. Every magazine must contain a certain quantity of mere ballast, of no value but as it occupies space. The general tone and spirit of the work will stand a comparison, in a moral point of view, with any periodical publication not professedly religious. I will venture to say that nothing has appeared in it, at least since the first number, from the pen of any of my friends, which can offend the most fastidious. Knight is absolutely in our hands, and most desirous to gratify us all, and me in particular. When I see you in London I will mention to you a piece of secret history which will show you how important our connection with this work may possibly become.
T. B. M.
The "piece of secret history" above referred to was beyond a doubt the commencement of Macaulay's connection with the Edinburgh Review. That famous periodical, which for three and twenty years had shared in and promoted the rising fortunes of the Liberal cause, had now attained its height—a height unequalled before or since—of political, social, and literary power. To have the entry of its columns was to command the most direct channel for the spread of opinions, and the shortest road to influence and celebrity. But already the anxious eye of the master seemed to discern symptoms of decline. Jeffrey, in Lord Cockburn's phrase, was "growing feverish about new writers." In January 1825 he says in a letter to a friend in London: "Can you not lay your hands on some clever young man who would write for us? The original supporters of the work are getting old, and either too busy or too stupid, and here the young men are mostly Tories." Overtures had already been made to Macaulay, and that same year his article on Milton appeared in the August number.
The effect on the author's reputation was instantaneous. Like Lord Byron, he awoke one morning and found himself famous. The beauties of the work were such as all men could recognise, and its very faults pleased. The redundance of youthful enthusiasm, which he himself unsparingly condemns in the preface to his collected essays, seemed graceful enough in the eyes of others, if it were only as a relief from the perverted ability of that elaborate libel on our great epic poet which goes by the name of Dr. Johnson's Life of Milton. Murray declared that it would be worth the copyright of Childe Harold to have Macaulay on the staff of the Quarterly. The family breakfast table in Bloomsbury was covered with cards of invitation to dinner from every quarter of London, and his father groaned in spirit over the conviction that thenceforward the law would be less to him than ever. A warm admirer of Robert Hall, Macaulay heard with pride how the great preacher, then wellnigh worn out with that long disease, his life, was discovered lying on the floor, employed in learning by aid of grammar and dictionary enough Italian to enable him to verify the parallel between Milton and Dante. But the compliment that of all others came most nearly home,—the only commendation of his literary talent which even in the innermost domestic circle he was ever known to repeat,—was the sentence with which Jeffrey acknowledged the receipt of his manuscript: "The more I think, the less I can conceive where you picked up that style."
Macaulay's outward man was never better described than in two sentences of Praed's Introduction to Knight's Quarterly Magazine. "There came up a short manly figure, marvellously upright, with a bad neckcloth, and one hand in his waistcoat pocket. ["I well remember," writes Sir William Stirling Maxwell, "the first time I met him,—in 1845 or '46, I think,—at dinner at the house of his old friend, Sir John Macleod. I did not know him by sight, and, when he came into the room with two or three other guests, I supposed that he was announced as General—I forget what. The party was large, and I was on the other side of the table, and a good way off, and I was very soon struck by the amazing number of subjects on which he seemed at home;—politics, home and foreign,—French literature, and Hebrew poetry;—and I remember thinking, 'This is a General with a singularly well-stored mind and badly tied neckcloth.' Till, at last, a remark on the prose of Dryden led me to conclude that it could be no one but the Great Essayist."] Of regular beauty he had little to boast; but in faces where there is an expression of great power, or of great good humour, or both, you do not regret its absence." This picture, in which every touch is correct, tells all that there is to be told. He had a massive head, and features of a powerful and rugged cast, but so constantly lit up by every joyful and ennobling emotion that it mattered little if, when absolutely quiescent, his face was rather homely than handsome. While conversing at table no one thought him otherwise than good-looking; but, when he rose, he was seen to be short and stout in figure. "At Holland House, the other day," writes his sister Margaret in September 1831, "Tom met Lady Lyndhurst for the first time. She said to him: 'Mr. Macaulay, you are so different to what I expected. I thought you were dark and thin, but you are fair, and really, Mr. Macaulay, you are fat."' He at all times sat and stood straight, full, and square; and in this respect Woolner, in the fine statue at Cambridge, has missed what was undoubtedly the most marked fact in his personal appearance.
He dressed badly, but not cheaply. His clothes, though ill put on, were good, and his wardrobe was always enormously overstocked. Later in life he indulged himself in an apparently inexhaustible succession of handsome embroidered waistcoats, which he used to regard with much complacency. He was unhandy to a degree quite unexampled in the experience of all who knew him. When in the open air he wore perfectly new dark kid gloves, into the fingers of which he never succeeded in inserting his own more than half way. After he had sailed for India there were found in his chambers between fifty and sixty strops, hacked into strips and splinters, and razors without beginning or end. About the same period he hurt his hand, and was reduced to send for a barber. After the operation, he asked what was to pay. "Oh, Sir," said the man, "whatever you usually give the person who shaves you." "In that case," said Macaulay, "I should give you a great gash on each cheek."
During an epoch when, at our principal seats of education, athletic pursuits are regarded as a leading object of existence rather than as a means of health and recreation, it requires some boldness to confess that Macaulay was utterly destitute of bodily accomplishments, and that he viewed his deficiencies with supreme indifference. He could neither swim, nor row, nor drive, nor skate, nor shoot. He seldom crossed a saddle, and never willingly. When in attendance at Windsor as a cabinet minister he was informed that a horse was at his disposal. "If her Majesty wishes to see me ride," he said, "she must order out an elephant." The only exercise in which he can be said to have excelled was that of threading crowded streets with his eyes fixed upon a book. He might be seen in such thoroughfares as Oxford Street, and Cheapside, walking as fast as other people walked, and reading a great deal faster than anybody else could read. As a pedestrian he was, indeed, above the average. Till he had passed fifty he thought nothing of going on foot from the Albany to Clapham, and from Clapham on to Greenwich; and, while still in the prime of life, he was for ever on his feet indoors as well as out. "In those days," says his cousin Mrs. Conybeare, "he walked rapidly up and down a room as he talked. I remember on one occasion, when he was making a call, he stopped short in his walk in the midst of a declamation on some subject, and said, 'You have a brick floor here.' The hostess confessed that it was true, though she hoped that it had been disguised by double matting and a thick carpet. He said that his habit of always walking enabled him to tell accurately the material he was treading on."
His faults were such as give annoyance to those who dislike a man rather than anxiety to those who love him. Vehemence, over-confidence, the inability to recognise that there are two sides to a question or two people in a dialogue, are defects which during youth are perhaps inseparable from gifts like those with which he was endowed. Moultrie, speaking of his undergraduate days, tells us that
"To him There was no pain like silence—no constraint So dull as unanimity. He breathed An atmosphere of argument, nor shrank From making, where he could not find, excuse For controversial fight."
At Cambridge he would say of himself that, whenever anybody enunciated a proposition, all possible answers to it rushed into his mind at once; and it was said of him by others that he had no politics except the opposite of those held by the person with whom he was talking. To that charge, at any rate, he did not long continue liable. He left college a staunch and vehement Whig, eager to maintain against all comers, and at any moment, that none but Whig opinions had a leg to stand upon. His cousin George Babington, a rising surgeon, with whom at one time he lived in the closest intimacy, was always ready to take up the Tory cudgels. The two friends "would walk up and down the room, crossing each other for hours, shouting one another down with a continuous simultaneous storm of words, until George at length yielded to arguments and lungs combined. Never, so far as I remember, was there any loss of temper. It was a fair, good-humoured battle in not very mannerly lists."
Even as a very young man nine people out of ten liked nothing better than to listen to him, which was fortunate; because in his early days he had scanty respect of persons, either as regarded the choice of his topics, or the quantity of his words. But with his excellent temper, and entire absence of conceit, he soon began to learn consideration for others in small things as well as in great. By the time he was fairly launched in London he was agreeable in company, as well as forcible and amusing. Wilberforce speaks of his "unruffled good-humour." Sir Robert Inglis, a good observer with ample opportunity of forming a judgment, pronounced that he conversed and did not dictate, and that he was loud but never overbearing. As far back as the year 1826 Crabb Robinson gave a very favourable account of his demeanour in society, which deserves credence as the testimony of one who liked his share of talk, and was not willing to be put in the background for anybody. "I went to James Stephen, and drove with him to his house at Hendon. A dinner party. I had a most interesting companion in young Macaulay, one of the most promising of the rising generation I have seen for a long time. He has a good face,—not the delicate features of a man of genius and sensibility, but the strong lines and well-knit limbs of a man sturdy in body and mind. Very eloquent and cheerful. Overflowing with words, and not poor in thought. Liberal in opinion, but no radical. He seems a correct as well as a full man. He showed a minute knowledge of subjects not introduced by himself."
So loyal and sincere was Macaulay's nature that he was unwilling to live upon terms of even apparent intimacy with people whom he did not like, or could not esteem; and, as far as civility allowed, he avoided their advances, and especially their hospitality. He did not choose, he said, to eat salt with a man for whom he could not say a good word in all companies. He was true throughout life to those who had once acquired his regard and respect. Moultrie says of him
"His heart was pure and simple as a child's Unbreathed on by the world: in friendship warm, Confiding, generous, constant; and, though now He ranks among the great ones of the earth And hath achieved such glory as will last To future generations, he, I think, Would sup on oysters with as right good will In this poor home of mine as e'er he did On Petty Cury's classical first floor Some twenty years ago."
He loved to place his purse, his influence, and his talents at the disposal of a friend; and anyone whom he called by that name he judged with indulgence, and trusted with a faith that would endure almost any strain. If his confidence proved to have been egregiously misplaced, which he was always the last to see, he did not resort to remonstrance or recrimination. His course under such circumstances he described in a couplet from an old French comedy:
"Le bruit est pour le fat, la plainte pour le sot; L'honnete homme trompe s'eloigne et ne dit mot.
["La Coquette corrigee. Comedie par Mr. Delanoue, 1756." In his journal of February 15, 1851, after quoting the couplet, Macaulay adds: "Odd that two lines of a damned play, and, it should seem, a justly damned play, should have lived near a century and have become proverbial."]
He was never known to take part in any family quarrel, or personal broil, of any description whatsoever. His conduct in this respect was the result of self-discipline, and did not proceed from any want of sensibility. "He is very sensitive," said his sister Margaret, "and remembers long, as well as feels deeply, anything in the form of slight." Indeed, at college his friends used to tell him that his leading qualities were "generosity and vindictiveness." Courage he certainly did not lack. During the years when his spirit was high, and his pen cut deep, and when the habits of society were different from what they are at present, more than one adversary displayed symptoms of a desire to meet him elsewhere than on paper. On these occasions, while showing consideration for his opponent, he evinced a quiet but very decided sense of what was due to himself, which commanded the respect of all who were implicated, and brought difficulties that might have been grave to an honourable and satisfactory issue.
He reserved his pugnacity for quarrels undertaken on public grounds, and fought out with the world looking on as umpire. In the lists of criticism and of debate it cannot be denied that, as a young man, he sometimes deserved the praise which Dr. Johnson pronounced upon a good hater. He had no mercy for bad writers, and notably for bad poets, unless they were in want of money; in which case he became within his means, the most open-handed of patrons. He was too apt to undervalue both the heart and the head of those who desired to maintain the old system of civil and religious exclusion, and who grudged political power to their fellow-countrymen, or at any rate to those of their fellow-countrymen whom he was himself prepared to enfranchise. Independent, frank, and proud almost to a fault, he detested the whole race of jobbers and time-servers, parasites and scandal-mongers, led-captains, led-authors, and led-orators. Some of his antipathies have stamped themselves indelibly upon literary history. He attributed to the Right Honourable John Wilson Croker, Secretary to the Admiralty during the twenty years preceding 1830, qualities which excited his disapprobation beyond control, and possibly beyond measure. His judgment has been confirmed by the public voice, which identifies Croker with the character of Rigby in Mr. Disraeli's Coningsby.
Macaulay was the more formidable as an opponent because he could be angry without losing his command of the situation. His first onset was terrific; but in the fiercest excitement of the melee he knew when to call a halt. A certain member of Parliament named Michael Thomas Sadler had fallen foul of Malthus, and very foul indeed of Macaulay, who in two short and telling articles took revenge enough for both. [Macaulay writes to Mr. Napier in February 1831: "People here think that I have answered Sadler completely. Empson tells me that Malthus is well pleased, which is a good sign. As to Blackwood's trash I could not get through it. It bore the same relation to Sadler's pamphlet that a bad hash bears to a bad joint."] He writes on this subject to Mr. Macvey Napier, who towards the close of 1829 had succeeded Jeffrey in the editorship of the Edinburgh Review: "The position which we have now taken up is absolutely impregnable, and, if we were to quit it, though we might win a more splendid victory, we should expose ourselves to some risk. My rule in controversy has always been that to which the Lacedaemonians adhered in war: never to break the ranks for the purpose of pursuing a beaten enemy." He had, indeed, seldom occasion to strike twice. Where he set his mark, there was no need of a second impression. The unduly severe fate of those who crossed his path during the years when his blood was hot teaches a serious lesson on the responsibilities of genius. Croker, and Sadler, and poor Robert Montgomery, and the other less eminent objects of his wrath, appear likely to enjoy just so much notoriety, and of such a nature, as he has thought fit to deal out to them in his pages; and it is possible that even Lord Ellenborough may be better known to our grand-children by Macaulay's oration on the gates of Somnauth than by the noise of his own deeds, or the echo of his own eloquence.
When Macaulay went to college he was justified in regarding himself as one who would not have to work for his bread. His father, who believed himself to be already worth a hundred thousand pounds, had statedly declared to the young man his intention of making him, in a modest way, an eldest son; and had informed him that, by doing his duty at the university, he would earn the privilege of shaping his career at choice. In 1818 the family removed to London, and set up an establishment on a scale suited to their improved circumstances in Cadogan Place, which, in everything except proximity to Bond Street, was then hardly less rural than Clapham. But the prosperity of the house of Macaulay and Babington was short-lived. The senior member of the firm gave his whole heart, and five-sixths of his time, to objects unconnected with his business; and he had selected a partner who did not possess the qualities necessary to compensate for his own deficiencies. In 1819 the first indications of possible disaster begin to show themselves in the letters to and from Cambridge; while waiting for a fellowship Macaulay was glad to make a hundred guineas by taking pupils; and, as time went on, it became evident that he was to be an eldest son only in the sense that, throughout the coming years of difficulty and distress, his brothers and sisters would depend mainly upon him for comfort, guidance, and support. He acknowledged the claim cheerfully, lovingly, and, indeed, almost unconsciously. It was not in his disposition to murmur over what was inevitable, or to plume himself upon doing what was right. He quietly took up the burden which his father was unable to bear; and, before many years had elapsed, the fortunes of all for whose welfare he considered himself responsible were abundantly assured. In the course of the efforts which he expended on the accomplishment of this result he unlearned the very notion of framing his method of life with a view to his own pleasure; and such was his high and simple nature, that it may well be doubted whether it ever crossed his mind that to live wholly for others was a sacrifice at all.
He resided with his father in Cadogan Place, and accompanied him when, under the pressure of pecuniary circumstances, he removed to a less fashionable quarter of the town. In 1823 the family settled in 50 Great Ormond Street, which runs east and west for some three hundred yards through the region bounded by the British Museum, the Foundling Hospital, and Gray's Inn Road. It was a large rambling house, at the corner of Powis Place, and was said to have been the residence of Lord Chancellor Thurlow at the time when the Great Seal was stolen from his custody. It now forms the east wing of an Homoeopathic hospital. Here the Macaulays remained till 1831. "Those were to me," says Lady Trevelyan, "years of intense happiness. There might be money troubles, but they did not touch us. Our lives were passed after a fashion which would seem indeed strange to the present generation. My father, ever more and more engrossed in one object, gradually gave up all society; and my mother never could endure it. We had friends, of course, with whom we stayed out for months together; and we dined with the Wilberforces, the Buxtons, Sir Robert Inglis, and others; but what is now meant by 'society' was utterly unknown to us.
"In the morning there was some pretence of work and study. In the afternoon your uncle always took my sister Margaret and myself a long walk. We traversed every part of the City, Islington, Clerkenwell, and the Parks, returning just in time for a six o'clock dinner. What anecdotes he used to pour out about every street, and square, and court, and alley! There are many places I never pass without 'the tender grace of a day that is dead' coming back to me. Then, after dinner, he always walked up and down the drawing-room between us chatting till tea-time. Our noisy mirth, his wretched puns, so many a minute, so many an hour! Then we sang, none of us having any voices, and he, if possible, least of all; but still the old nursery songs were set to music, and chanted. My father, sitting at his own table, used to look up occasionally, and push back his spectacles, and, I dare say, wonder in his heart how we could so waste our time. After tea the book then in reading was produced. Your uncle very seldom read aloud himself of an evening, but walked about listening, and commenting, and drinking water.
"The Sundays were in some respects trying days to him. My father's habit was to read a long sermon to us all in the afternoon, and again after evening service another long sermon was read at prayer-time to the servants. Our doors were open to sons of relations or friends; and cousins who were medical students, or clerks in merchants' houses, came in regularly to partake of our Sunday dinner and sermons. Sunday walking, for walking's sake, was never allowed; and even going to a distant church was discouraged. When in Cadogan Place, we always crossed the Five Fields, where Belgrave Square now stands, to hear Dr. Thorpe at the Lock Chapel, and bring him home to dine with us. From Great Ormond Street, we attended St. John's Chapel in Bedford Row, then served by Daniel Wilson, afterwards Bishop of Calcutta. He was succeeded in 1826 by the Rev. Baptist Noel. Your uncle generally went to church with us in the morning, and latterly formed the habit of walking out of town, alone or with a friend, in the after part of the day. I never heard that my father took any notice of this; and, indeed, in the interior of his own family, he never attempted in the smallest degree to check his son in his mode of life, or in the expression of his opinions.
"I believe that breakfast was the pleasantest part of the day to my father. His spirits were then at their best, and he was most disposed to general conversation. He delighted in discussing the newspaper with his son, and lingered over the table long after the meal was finished. On this account he felt it extremely when, in the year 1829, your uncle went to live in chambers, and often said to my mother that the change had taken the brightness out of his day. Though your uncle generally dined with us, yet my father was tired by the evening, so that the breakfast hour was a grievous loss to him, as indeed it was to us all. Truly he was to old and young alike the sunshine of our home; and I believe that no one, who did not know him there, ever knew him in his most brilliant, witty, and fertile vein."
That home was never more cheerful than during the eight years which followed the close of Macaulay's college life. There had been much quiet happiness at Clapham, and much in Cadogan Place; but it was round the house in Great Ormond Street that the dearest associations gathered. More than forty years afterwards, when Lady Trevelyan was dying, she had herself driven to the spot, as the last drive she ever took, and sat silent in her carriage for many minutes with her eyes fixed upon those well-known walls.
[In August 1857, Macaulay notes in his diary: "I sent the carriage home, and walked to the Museum. Passing through Great Ormond Street I saw a bill upon No. 50. I knocked, was let in, and went over the house with a strange mixture of feelings. It is more than twenty-six years since I was in it. The dining-room, and the adjoining room, in which I once slept, are scarcely changed—the same colouring on the wall, but more dingy. My father's study much the same;—the drawing-rooms too, except the papering. My bedroom just what it was. My mother's bedroom. I had never been in it since her death. I went away sad."]
While warmly attached to all his nearest relations, Macaulay lived in the closest and most frequent companionship with his sisters Hannah and Margaret, younger than himself by ten and twelve years respectively. His affection for these two, deep and enduring as it was, had in it no element of blindness or infatuation. Even in the privacy of a diary, or the confidence of the most familiar correspondence, Macaulay, when writing about those whom he loved, was never tempted to indulge in fond exaggeration of their merits. Margaret, as will be seen in the course of this narrative, died young, leaving a memory of outward graces, and sweet and noble mental qualities, which is treasured by all among whom her short existence was passed. As regards the other sister, there are many alive who knew her for what she was; and, for those who did not know her, if this book proves how much of her brother's heart she had, and how well it was worth having, her children will feel that they have repaid their debt even to her.
Education in the Macaulay family was not on system. Of what are ordinarily called accomplishments the daughters had but few, and Hannah fewest of any; but, ever since she could remember anything, she had enjoyed the run of a good standard library, and had been allowed to read at her own time, and according to her own fancy. There were two traits in her nature which are seldom united in the same person: a vivid practical interest in the realities which surrounded her, joined with the power of passing at will into a world of literature and romance in which she found herself entirely at home. The feeling with which Macaulay and his sister regarded books differed from that of other people in kind rather than in degree. When they were discoursing together about a work of history or biography, a bystander would have supposed that they had lived in the times of which the author treated, and had a personal acquaintance with every human being who was mentioned in his pages. Pepys, Addison, Horace Walpole, Dr. Johnson, Madame de Genlis, the Duc de St. Simon, and the several societies in which those worthies moved, excited in their minds precisely the same sort of concern, and gave matter for discussions of exactly the same type, as most people bestow upon the proceedings of their own contemporaries. The past was to them as the present, and the fictitious as the actual. The older novels, which had been the food of their early years, had become part of themselves to such an extent that, in speaking to each other, they frequently employed sentences from dialogues in those novels to express the idea, or even the business, of the moment. On matters of the street or of the household they would use the very language of Mrs. Elton and Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Woodhouse, Mr. Collins, and John Thorpe, and the other inimitable actors on Jane Austen's unpretending stage: while they would debate the love affairs and the social relations of their own circle in a series of quotations from Sir Charles Grandison or Evelina.
The effect was at times nothing less than bewildering. When Lady Trevelyan married, her husband, whose reading had lain anywhere rather than among the circulating libraries, used at first to wonder who the extraordinary people could be with whom his wife and his brother-in-law appeared to have lived. This style of thought and conversation had for young minds a singular and a not unhealthy fascination. Lady Trevelyan's children were brought up among books, (to use the homely simile of an American author), as a stable-boy among horses. The shelves of the library, instead of frowning on us as we played and talked, seemed alive with kindly and familiar faces. But death came, and came again, and then all was changed, and changed as in an instant. There were many favourite volumes out of which the spirit seemed to vanish at once and for ever. We endeavoured unsuccessfully to revive by our own efforts the amusement which we had been taught to find in the faded flatteries and absurdities that passed between Miss Seward and her admirers, or to retrace for ourselves the complications of female jealousy which played round Cowper's tea-table at Olney. We awoke to the discovery that the charm was not in us, nor altogether in the books themselves. The talisman, which endowed with life and meaning all that it touched, had passed away from among us, leaving recollections which are our most cherished, as they must ever be our proudest, possession.
Macaulay thought it probable that he could re-write Sir Charles Grandison from memory, and certainly he might have done so with his sister's help. But his intimate acquaintance with a work was no proof of its merit. "There was a certain prolific author," says Lady Trevelyan, "named Mrs. Meeke, whose romances he all but knew by heart; though he quite agreed in my criticism that they were one just like another, turning on the fortunes of some young man in a very low rank of life who eventually proves to be the son of a Duke. Then there was a set of books by a Mrs. Kitty Cuthbertson, most silly though readable productions, the nature of which may be guessed from their titles:—'Santo Sebastiano, or the Young Protector,' 'The Forest of Montalbano,' 'The Romance of the Pyrenees,' and 'Adelaide, or the Countercharm.' I remember how, when 'Santo Sebastiano' was sold by auction in India, he and Miss Eden bid against each other till he secured it at a fabulous price; and I possess it still."
As an indication of the thoroughness with which this literary treasure has been studied, there appears on the last page an elaborate computation of the number of fainting-fits that occur in the course of the five volumes.
Julia de Clifford..... 11 Lady Delamore....... 4 Lady Theodosia....... 4 Lord Glenbrook...... 2 Lord Delamore...... 2 Lady Enderfield...... 1 Lord Ashgrove....... 1 Lord St. Orville..... 1 Henry Mildmay....... 1
A single passage, selected for no other reason than because it is the shortest, will serve as a specimen of these catastrophes "One of the sweetest smiles that ever animated the face of mortal now diffused itself over the countenance of Lord St. Orville, as he fell at the feet of Julia in a death-like swoon."
The fun that went on in Great Ormond Street was of a jovial, and sometimes uproarious, description. Even when the family was by itself, the school-room and the drawing-room were full of young people; and friends and cousins flocked in numbers to a resort where so much merriment was perpetually on foot. There were seasons during the school holidays when the house overflowed with noise and frolic from morning to night; and Macaulay, who at any period of his life could literally spend whole days in playing with children, was master of the innocent revels. Games of hide-and-seek, that lasted for hours, with shouting and the blowing of horns up and down the stairs and through every room, were varied by ballads, which, like the Scalds of old, he composed during the act of recitation, while the others struck in with the chorus. He had no notion whatever of music, but an infallible ear for rhythm. His knack of improvisation he at all times exercised freely. The verses which he thus produced, and which he invariably attributed to an anonymous author whom he styled "the Judicious Poet," were exclusively for home consumption. Some of these effusions illustrate a sentiment in his disposition which was among the most decided, and the most frequently and loudly expressed. Macaulay was only too easily bored, and those whom he considered fools he by no means suffered gladly. He once amused his sisters by pouring out whole Iliads of extempore doggrel upon the head of an unfortunate country squire of their acquaintance, who had a habit of detaining people by the button, and who was especially addicted to the society of the higher order of clergy
"His Grace Archbishop Manners Sutton Could not keep on a single button. As for Right Reverend John of Chester, His waistcoats open at the breast are. Our friend* has filled a mighty trunk With trophies torn from Doctor Monk And he has really tattered foully The vestments of Archbishop Howley No button could I late discern on The garments of Archbishop Vernon, And never had his fingers mercy Upon the garb of Bishop Percy. The buttons fly from Bishop Ryder Like corks that spring from bottled cyder,—"
[*The name of this gentleman has been concealed, as not being sufficiently known by all to give point, but well enough remembered by some to give pain.]
and so on, throughout the entire bench, until, after a good half-hour of hearty and spontaneous nonsense, the girls would go laughing back to their Italian and their drawing-boards.
He did not play upon words as a habit, nor did he interlard his talk with far-fetched or overstrained witticisms. His humour, like his rhetoric, was full of force and substance, and arose naturally from the complexion of the conversation or the circumstance of the moment. But when alone with his sisters, and, in after years, with his nieces, he was fond of setting himself deliberately to manufacture conceits resembling those on the heroes of the Trojan War which have been thought worthy of publication in the collected works of Swift. When walking in London he would undertake to give some droll turn to the name of every shopkeeper in the street, and, when travelling, to the name of every station along the line. At home he would run through the countries of Europe, the States of the Union, the chief cities of our Indian Empire, the provinces of France, the Prime Ministers of England, or the chief writers and artists of any given century; striking off puns, admirable, endurable, and execrable, but all irresistibly laughable, which followed each other in showers like sparks from flint. Capping verses was a game of which he never tired. "In the spring of 1829," says his cousin Mrs. Conybeare, "we were staying in Ormond Street. My chief recollection of your uncle during that visit is on the evenings when we capped verses. All the family were quick at it, but his astounding memory made him supereminent. When the time came for him to be off to bed at his chambers, he would rush out of the room after uttering some long-sought line, and would be pursued to the top of the stairs by one of the others who had contrived to recall a verse which served the purpose, in order that he might not leave the house victorious; but he, with the hall-door open in his hand, would shriek back a crowning effort, and go off triumphant."
Nothing of all this can be traced in his letters before the year 1830. Up to that period he corresponded regularly with no one but his father, between whom and himself there existed a strong regard, but scanty sympathy or similarity of pursuits. It was not until he poured out his mind almost daily to those who approached him more nearly in age, and in tastes, that the lighter side of his nature began to display itself on paper. Most of what he addressed to his parents between the time when he left Cambridge, and the time when he entered the House of Commons, may be characterised as belonging to the type of duty-letters, treating of politics, legal gossip, personal adventures, and domestic incidents, with some reticence and little warmth or ease of expression, The periodical insertion on the son's part of anecdotes and observations bearing upon the question of Slavery reminds the reader of those presents of tall recruits with which, at judiciously chosen intervals, Frederic the Great used to conciliate his terrible father. As between the Macaulays, these little filial attentions acquire a certain gracefulness from the fact that, in the circumstances of the family, they could be prompted by no other motive than a dutiful and disinterested affection.
It must not be supposed,—no one who examines the dates of his successive essays will for a moment suppose,—that his attention was distracted, or his energy dissipated, by trifles. Besides the finished study of Machiavelli, and the masterly sketch of our great civil troubles known as the article on Hallam's Constitutional History, he produced much which his mature judgment would willingly have allowed to die, but which had plenty of life in it when it first appeared between the blue and yellow covers. His most formidable enterprise, during the five earliest years of his connection with the great Review, was that passage of arms against the champions of the Utilitarian philosophy in which he touched the mighty shields of James Mill and Jeremy Bentham, and rode slashing to right and left through the ranks of their less distinguished followers. Indeed, while he sincerely admired the chiefs of the school, he had a young man's prejudice against their disciples, many of whom he regarded as "persons who, having read little or nothing, are delighted to be rescued from the sense of their own inferiority by some teacher who assures them that the studies which they have neglected are of no value, puts five or six phrases into their mouths, lends them an odd number of the Westminster Review, and in a month transforms them into philosophers." It must be allowed that there was some colour for his opinion. The Benthamite training may have stimulated the finer intellects, (and they were not few,) which came within its influence; but it is impossible to conceive anything more dreary than must have been the condition of a shallow mind, with a native predisposition to sciolism, after its owner had joined a society "composed of young men agreeing in fundamental principles, acknowledging Utility as their standard in ethics and politics," "meeting once a fortnight to read essays and discuss questions conformably to the premises thus agreed on," and "expecting the regeneration of mankind, not from any direct action on the sentiments of unselfish benevolence and love of justice, but from the effect of educated intellect enlightening the selfish feelings." John Stuart Mill, with that candour which is the rarest of his great qualities, gave a generous and authoritative testimony to the merit of these attacks upon his father, and his father's creed, which Macaulay himself lived to wish that he had left unwritten.
["The author has been strongly urged to insert three papers on the Utilitarian Philosophy, which, when they first appeared, attracted some notice. * * * He has, however, determined to omit these papers, not because he is disposed to retract a single doctrine which they contain, but because he is unwilling to offer what might be regarded as an affront to the memory of one from whose opinions he still widely dissents, but to whose talents and virtues he admits that he formerly did not do justice. * * It ought to be known that Mr. Mill had the generosity, not only to forgive, but to forget the unbecoming acrimony with which he had been assailed, and was, when his valuable life closed, on terms of cordial friendship with his assailant."—Preface to Macaulay's Collected Essays.]
He was already famous enough to have incurred the inevitable penalty of success in the shape of the pronounced hostility of Blackwood's Magazine. The feelings which the leading contributors to that periodical habitually entertained towards a young and promising writer were in his case sharpened by political partisanship; and the just and measured severity which he infused into his criticism on Southey's "Colloquies of Society" brought down upon him the bludgeon to whose strokes poetic tradition has attributed the death of Keats. Macaulay was made of harder stuff, and gave little heed to a string of unsavoury invectives compounded out of such epithets as "ugly," "splay-footed," and "shapeless;" such phrases as "stuff and nonsense," "malignant trash," "impertinent puppy," and "audacity of impudence;" and other samples from the polemical vocabulary of the personage who, by the irony of fate, filled the Chair of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh. The substance of Professor Wilson's attacks consisted in little more than the reiteration of that charge of intellectual juvenility, which never fails to be employed as the last resource against a man whose abilities are undoubted, and whose character is above detraction.
"North. He's a clever lad, James.
"Shepherd. Evidently; and a clever lad he'll remain, depend ye upon that, a' the days of his life. A clever lad thirty years auld and some odds is to ma mind the maist melancholy sight in nature. Only think of a clever lad o' three-score-and-ten, on his deathbed, wha can look back on nae greater achievement than having aince, or aiblins ten times, abused Mr. Southey in the Embro' Review."
The prophecies of jealousy seldom come true. Southey's book died before its author, with the exception of the passages extracted by Macaulay, which have been reproduced in his essay a hundred times, and more, for once that they were printed in the volumes from which he selected them for his animadversion.
The chambers in which he ought to have been spending his days, and did actually spend his nights between the years 1829 and 1834, were within five minutes' walk of the house in Great Ormond Street. The building of which those chambers formed a part,—8 South Square, Gray's Inn,—has since been pulled down to make room for an extension of the Library; a purpose which, in Macaulay's eyes, would amply compensate for the loss of such associations as might otherwise have attached themselves to the locality. His Trinity fellowship brought him in nearly three hundred pounds annually, and the Edinburgh Review nearly two hundred. In January 1828, during the interregnum that separated the resignation of Lord Goderich and the acceptance of the Premiership by the Duke of Wellington, Lord Lyndhurst made him a Commissioner of Bankruptcy; a rare piece of luck at a time when, as Lord Cockburn tells us, "a youth of a Tory family, who was discovered to have a leaning towards the doctrines of the opposition, was considered as a lost son." "The Commission is welcome," Macaulay writes to his father, "and I am particularly glad that it has been given at a time when there is no ministry, and when the acceptance of it implies no political obligation. To Lord Lyndhurst I of course feel personal gratitude, and I shall always take care how I speak of him."
The emoluments of the office made up his income, for the three or four years during which he held it, to about nine hundred pounds per annum. His means were more than sufficient for his wants, but too small, and far too precarious, for the furtherance of the political aspirations which now were uppermost in his mind. "Public affairs," writes Lady Trevelyan, "were become intensely interesting to him. Canning's accession to power, then his death, the repeal of the Test Act, the Emancipation of the Catholics, all in their turn filled his heart and soul. He himself longed to be taking his part in Parliament, but with a very hopeless longing.
"In February 1830 I was staying at Mr. Wilberforce's at Highwood Hill when I got a letter from your uncle, enclosing one from Lord Lansdowne, who told him that he had been much struck by the articles on Mill, and that he wished to be the means of first introducing their author to public life by proposing to him to stand for the vacant seat at Calne. Lord Lansdowne expressly added that it was your uncle's high moral and private character which had determined him to make the offer, and that he wished in no respect to influence his votes, but to leave him quite at liberty to act according to his conscience. I remember flying into Mr. Wilberforce's study, and, absolutely speechless, putting the letter into his hands. He read it with much emotion, and returned it to me, saying 'Your father has had great trials, obloquy, bad health, many anxieties. One must feel as if Tom were given him for a recompense.' He was silent for a moment, and then his mobile face lighted up, and he clapped his hand to his ear, and cried: 'Ah! I hear that shout again. Hear! Hear! What a life it was!'"
And so, on the eve of the most momentous conflict that ever was fought out by speech and vote within the walls of a senate-house, the young recruit went gaily to his post in the ranks of that party whose coming fortunes he was prepared loyally to follow, and the history of whose past he was destined eloquently, and perhaps imperishably, to record.
York: April 2, 1826.
My dear Father,—I am sorry that I have been unable to avail myself of the letters of introduction which you forwarded to me. Since I received them I have been confined to the house with a cold; and, now that I am pretty well recovered, I must take my departure for Pontefract. But, if it had been otherwise, I could not have presented these recommendations. Letters of this sort may be of great service to a barrister; but the barrister himself must not be the bearer of them. On this subject the rule is most strict, at least on our circuit. The hugging of the Bar, like the Simony of the Church, must be altogether carried on by the intervention of third persons. We are sensible of our dependence on the attorneys, and proportioned to that sense of dependence is our affectation of superiority. Even to take a meal with an attorney is a high misdemeanour. One of the most eminent men among us brought himself into a serious scrape by doing so. But to carry a letter of introduction, to wait in the outer room while it is being read, to be then ushered into the presence, to receive courtesies which can only be considered as the condescensions of a patron, to return courtesies which are little else than the blessings of a beggar, would be an infinitely more terrible violation of our professional code. Every barrister to whom I have applied for advice has most earnestly exhorted me on no account whatever to present the letters myself. I should perhaps add that my advisers have been persons who cannot by any possibility feel jealous of me.
In default of anything better I will eke out my paper with some lines which I made in bed last night,—an inscription for a picture of Voltaire.
If thou would'st view one more than man and less, Made up of mean and great, of foul and fair, Stop here; and weep and laugh, and curse and bless, And spurn and worship; for thou seest Voltaire. That flashing eye blasted the conqueror's spear, The monarch's sceptre, and the Jesuit's beads And every wrinkle in that haggard sneer Hath been the grave of Dynasties and Creeds. In very wantonness of childish mirth He puffed Bastilles, and thrones, and shrines away, Insulted Heaven, and liberated earth. Was it for good or evil? Who shall say?
Ever affectionately yours
T. B. M.
York: July 21, 1826.
My dear Father,—The other day, as I was changing my neck-cloth which my wig had disfigured, my good landlady knocked at the door of my bedroom, and told me that Mr. Smith wished to see me, and was in my room below. Of all names by which men are called there is none which conveys a less determinate idea to the mind than that of Smith. Was he on the circuit? For I do not know half the names of my companions. Was he a special messenger from London? Was he a York attorney coming to be preyed upon, or a beggar coming to prey upon me, a barber to solicit the dressing of my wig, or a collector for the Jews' Society? Down I went, and to my utter amazement beheld the Smith of Smiths, Sydney Smith, alias Peter Plymley. I had forgotten his very existence till I discerned the queer contrast between his black coat and his snow-white head, and the equally curious contrast between the clerical amplitude of his person, and the most unclerical wit, whim, and petulance of his eye. I shook hands with him very heartily; and on the Catholic question we immediately fell, regretted Evans, triumphed over Lord George Beresford, and abused the Bishops. [These allusions refer to the general election which had recently taken place.] He then very kindly urged me to spend the time between the close of the Assizes and the commencement of the Sessions at his house; and was so hospitably pressing that I at last agreed to go thither on Saturday afternoon. He is to drive me over again into York on Monday morning. I am very well pleased at having this opportunity of becoming better acquainted with a man who, in spite of innumerable affectations and oddities, is certainly one of the wittiest and most original writers of our times.
Ever yours affectionately
T. B. M.
Bradford: July 26, 1826.
My dear Father,—On Saturday I went to Sydney Smith's. His parish lies three or four miles out of any frequented road. He is, however, most pleasantly situated. "Fifteen years ago," said he to me as I alighted at the gate of his shrubbery, "I was taken up in Piccadilly and set down here. There was no house, and no garden; nothing but a bare field." One service this eccentric divine has certainly rendered to the Church. He has built the very neatest, most commodious, and most appropriate rectory that I ever saw. All its decorations are in a peculiarly clerical style; grave, simple, and gothic. The bed-chambers are excellent, and excellently fitted up; the sitting-rooms handsome; and the grounds sufficiently pretty. Tindal and Parke, (not the judge of course,) two of the best lawyers, best scholars, and best men in England, were there. We passed an extremely pleasant evening, had a very good dinner, and many amusing anecdotes.
After breakfast the next morning I walked to church with Sydney Smith. The edifice is not at all in keeping with the rectory. It is a miserable little hovel with a wooden belfry. It was, however, well filled, and with decent people, who seemed to take very much to their pastor. I understand that he is a very respectable apothecary; and most liberal of his skill, his medicine, his soul, and his wine, among the sick. He preached a very queer sermon—the former half too familiar and the latter half too florid, but not without some ingenuity of thought and expression.
Sydney Smith brought me to York on Monday morning, in time for the stage-coach which runs to Skipton. We parted with many assurances of goodwill. I have really taken a great liking to him. He is full of wit, humour, and shrewdness. He is not one of those show-talkers who reserve all their good things for special occasions. It seems to be his greatest luxury to keep his wife and daughters laughing for two or three hours every day. His notions of law, government, and trade are surprisingly clear and just. His misfortune is to have chosen a profession at once above him and below him. Zeal would have made him a prodigy; formality and bigotry would have made him a bishop; but he could neither rise to the duties of his order, nor stoop to its degradations.
He praised my articles in the Edinburgh Review with a warmth which I am willing to believe sincere, because he qualified his compliments with several very sensible cautions. My great danger, he said, was that of taking a tone of too much asperity and contempt in controversy. I believe that he is right, and I shall try to mend.
Ever affectionately yours
T. B. M.
Lancaster: September 1, 1827.
My dear Father,—Thank Hannah from me for her pleasant letter. I would answer it if I had anything equally amusing to say in return; but here we have no news, except what comes from London, and is as stale as inland fish before it reaches us. We have circuit anecdotes to be sure; and perhaps you will be pleased to hear that Brougham has been rising through the whole of this struggle. At York Pollock decidedly took the lead. At Durham Brougham overtook him, passed him at Newcastle, and got immensely ahead of him at Carlisle and Appleby, which, to be sure, are the places where his own connections lie. We have not been here quite long enough to determine how he will succeed with the Lancastrians. This has always hitherto been his least favourable place. He appears to improve in industry and prudence. He learns his story more thoroughly, and tells it more clearly, than formerly. If he continues to manage causes as well as he has done of late he must rise to the summit of the profession. I cannot say quite so much for his temper, which this close and constant rivalry does not improve. He squabbles with Pollock more than, in generosity or policy, he ought to do. I have heard several of our younger men wondering that he does not show more magnanimity. He yawns while Pollock is speaking; a sign of weariness which, in their present relation to each other, he would do well to suppress. He has said some very good, but very bitter, things. There was a case of a lead-mine. Pollock was for the proprietors, and complained bitterly of the encroachments which Brougham's clients had made upon this property, which he represented as of immense value. Brougham said that the estimate which his learned friend formed of the property was vastly exaggerated, but that it was no wonder that a person who found it so easy to get gold for his lead should appreciate that heavy metal so highly. The other day Pollock laid down a point of law rather dogmatically. "Mr. Pollock," said Brougham, "perhaps, before you rule the point, you will suffer his Lordship to submit a few observations on it to your consideration."
I received the Edinburgh paper which you sent me. Silly and spiteful as it is, there is a little truth in it. In such cases I always remember those excellent lines of Boileau
"Moi, qu'une humeur trop libre, un esprit peu soumis, De bonne heure a pourvo d'utiles ennemis, Je dois plus a leur haine (il faut que je l'avoue) Qu'au faible et vain talent dont la France me loue. Sitot que sur un vice un pensent me confondre, C'est en me guerissant que je sais leur repondre."
This place disagrees so much with me that I shall leave it as soon as the dispersion of the circuit commences,—that is, after the delivery of the last batch of briefs; always supposing, which may be supposed without much risk of mistake, that there are none for me.
Ever yours affectionately
T. B. M.
It was about this period that the Cambridge Senate came to a resolution to petition against the Catholic Claims. The minority demanded a poll, and conveyed a hint to their friends in London. Macaulay, with one or two more to help him, beat up the Inns of Court for recruits, chartered a stage-coach, packed it inside and out with young Whig Masters of Arts, and drove up King's Parade just in time to turn the scale in favour of Emancipation. The whole party dined in triumph at Trinity, and got back to town the same evening; and the Tory journalists were emphatic in their indignation at the deliberate opinion of the University having been overridden by a coachful of "godless and briefless barristers."
Court House, Pomfret: April 15, 1828.
My dear Mother,—I address this epistle to you as the least undeserving of a very undeserving family. You, I think, have sent me one letter since I left London. I have nothing here to do but to write letters; and, what is not very often the case, I have members of Parliament in abundance to frank them, and abundance of matter to fill them with. My Edinburgh expedition has given me so much to say that, unless I write off some of it before I come home, I shall talk you all to death, and be voted a bore in every house which I visit. I will commence with Jeffrey himself. I had almost forgotten his person; and, indeed, I should not wonder if even now I were to forget it again. He has twenty faces almost as unlike each other as my father's to Mr. Wilberforce's, and infinitely more unlike to each other than those of near relatives often are; infinitely more unlike, for example, than those of the two Grants. When absolutely quiescent, reading a paper, or hearing a conversation in which he takes no interest, his countenance shows no indication whatever of intellectual superiority of any kind. But as soon as he is interested, and opens his eyes upon you, the change is like magic. There is a flash in his glance, a violent contortion in his frown, an exquisite humour in his sneer, and a sweetness and brilliancy in his smile, beyond anything that ever I witnessed. A person who had seen him in only one state would not know him if he saw him in another. For he has not, like Brougham, marked features which in all moods of mind remain unaltered. The mere outline of his face is insignificant. The expression is everything; and such power and variety of expression I never saw in any human countenance, not even in that of the most celebrated actors. I can conceive that Garrick may have been like him. I have seen several pictures of Garrick, none resembling another, and I have heard Hannah More speak of the extraordinary variety of countenance by which he was distinguished, and of the unequalled radiance and penetration of his eye. The voice and delivery of Jeffrey resemble his face. He possesses considerable power of mimicry, and rarely tells a story without imitating several different accents. His familiar tone, his declamatory tone, and his pathetic tone are quite different things. Sometimes Scotch predominates in his pronunciation; sometimes it is imperceptible. Sometimes his utterance is snappish and quick to the last degree; sometimes it is remarkable for rotundity and mellowness. I can easily conceive that two people who had seen him on different days might dispute about him as the travellers in the fable disputed about the chameleon.